Issues and proposed improvements to the FreeBSD CoC

Fiorello G. Baumgartner fiorello.g.baumgartner at
Thu Mar 8 04:30:39 UTC 2018


I am a long-time FreeBSD user who has observed much of the controversy around the recently released CoC, and I would like to comment on it. While I don’t oppose the concept of a CoC, I think the current revision has significant issues that I think should be addressed and will outline here: 

1. It unnecessarily wades into contentious political territory, for example by using language characteristic of particular ideological factions that could be interpreted as endorsement of or indirect affiliation with those factions. FreeBSD is a technical project, and it should endeavor to avoid political entanglements that are far outside of its mission of developing an open source operating system. Such entanglements are a distraction and also exclusionary.

As an example of why this is a problem, the CoC committee could have released a semantically similar document that used Christian terms and language to communicate the same messages as the new CoC, and it’s obvious that would have been unwise, controversial, and that non-Christians might take issue. It’s the same with this document. The CoC should be rewritten in the blandest, most uncontroversial language possible that communicates the indented meaning.

Using different language would also have the benefit of making the document easier for nonnative English speakers to understand, and spare them the task of familiarizing themselves with the neologisms and jargon of a North American political ideology.

2. The document text appears to have been presented as a fiat accompli to the project. No drafts appear to have been widely circulated for feedback prior to release. For something as core to a community as how it should conduct itself, this is unacceptable.

It appears that the reason for this is that the teams responsible judged it as too difficult to gain consensus about the text from the wider project, so it opted to avoid that task. However, in a more democratic, collaborative project like FreeBSD this is a dereliction of duty. The political labor of working towards a consensus is a burden of project leadership and must be done.

To that end, the core team and the CoC committee should officially and openly solicit feedback from the wider developer group on the present CoC, honestly listen to that feedback, incorporate it into a new revision, and present that revision for approval by the wider group. In the interests of openness and transparency, it’s preferable that the feedback not be presented privately and that discussions about it appear in the open for other project members to see.

3. This is a much more specific criticism, but the first example of harassment needs to be revised to not exclude so many groups. I suggest that example be replaced with the *exact text* used in the Geek Feminism CoC, which I’ll quote here:

> Offensive comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, neuro(a)typicality, physical appearance, body size, age, race, or religion.

I would also be fine if that was revised a little bit to “offensive comments or comments that reinforce negative stereotypes,” which may get more at the intent of the CoC committee's modifications.

The current language, which appears to be original to the FreeBSD CoC, specifically does not apply to harassing comments directed at many genders, sexual orientations, races, religions, etc. due to its use of the term "systematic oppression." There’s been some speculation that “harassment includes but is not limited to” covers such comments, but that’s unacceptably vague. It must be made *clear* that harassment involving *any* gender, race, religion, etc. is unacceptable.

This is a major defect that must be corrected. The sorts of harassing comments that the current text doesn’t explicitly forbid occur frequently on social media.

4. The attribution should either be removed or language added stating that FreeBSD does not endorse the viewpoint of “Geek Feminism” or its ideas; besides the ones it has explicitly borrowed. This is closely related to my point #1 above.

5. This is my least important comment, but the *hugs* example should be excised. This example is too-easily mocked and this kind of behavior is a good example of the kind of thing that should be covered under “harassment includes but is not limited to…”

It’s puzzling why this example was included while the glaring defects in the example I covered in my point #3 were unaddressed.

6. The new CoC does not actually cover how one should conduct itself in the project.  It's really just anti-harassment policy with some prefatory platitudes about diversity and inclusion.  That's really lacking.

It should be revised to provide affirmative advice, not just negative examples. This could include something like “FreeBSD is a technical project. It’s recommended that you focus on technical and project topics in your interactions, and avoid other subjects.”

In these regard, the original FreeBSD CoC was far better than the current revision. It should be consulted and much of its language salvaged and incorporated into the new CoC. For reference, that version can be found here:

7. Scope should be clarified and reasonable. The current phrasing of…

> This code of conduct applies to all spaces used by the FreeBSD Project, including our mailing lists, IRC channels, and social media, both online and off.

…is too ambiguous and may be over-broad. For instance, if someone is active on twitter, FreeBSD shouldn’t claim to be policing everything they’ve ever said there to anyone, because FreeBSD once used twitter. The risk I’m trying to avoid here is the kind of harassment where someone with a grudge goes on a dirt digging expedition in order to exploit process.


These issues aren’t moot points. I’ve donated to the foundation and for some time I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to volunteer for the project, probably to help with scut-work due to the fact that my skills aren’t very aligned with it (I’m not very handy with C, for instance). While I’ll continue to use FreeBSD, the introduction of this revision of the CoC means that it’s unlikely that I’ll continue with my donations or attempt to volunteer unless the issues are addressed.

In short:

* The present CoC has numerous issues that were introduced by recent revision.  Those issues are both issues in an of themselves and the cause of drama.  They need to be addressed.
* The issues should be addressed through an open, transparent process.  If this had been done initially, the the issues could have been dealt with early and more easily.
* We should salvage language from the old CoC to address some of the problems of the new one.
* The CoC should endeavor, mightily, to accomplish its goals while avoiding, as much as possible, contemporary political controversy, controversial or sectarian ideology, and controversial terminology.  Failure to do so will inevitably lead to unnecessary drama and distraction, which has been amply demonstrated by recent events.


- Fiorello G. Baumgartner, a pseudonymous FreeBSD user


P.S. Here’s a proposal for a revised list of examples (double-asterisks denote modifications).  I think we'd have a very good CoC if we took the original FreeBSD one, and grafted on these examples and the reporting procedures of the new CoC.

** Offensive comments or comments that reinforce negative stereotypes related to any gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, neuro(a)typicality, physical appearance, body size, age, race, or religion.

** Unwelcome comments regarding a person's lifestyle choices and practices, including those related to food, health, parenting, non-disruptive drug use, and employment.

** Deliberate and harassing use of rejected or unwanted names, nicknames, or pronouns. In some cases these are called “dead names.”

* Gratuitous or off-topic sexual images or behavior in spaces where they're not appropriate.

** Physical contact without consent or after a request to stop.

** Threats of physical violence.

** Incitement of physical violence towards any individual, including encouraging a person to commit suicide or to engage in self-harm.

* Deliberate intimidation.

** Stalking or intrusive following.

* Harassing photography or recording, including logging online activity for harassment purposes.

* Sustained disruption of discussion.

* Unwelcome sexual attention.

* Pattern of inappropriate social contact, such as requesting/assuming inappropriate levels of intimacy with others.

* Continued one-on-one communication after requests to cease.

** Deliberate "outing" of any private aspect of a person's identity without their consent except as necessary to protect people from intentional abuse.

** Publication of non-harassing private communication without consent, except to reveal misconduct.

* Publication of non-harassing private communication with consent but in a way that intentionally misrepresents the communication (e.g., removes context that changes the meaning).

* Knowingly making harmful false claims about a person.


P.P.S. On the pseudonym: I'm not going to wade into public, forever-archived political debates under my real name.  People are weird and I would rather not chance the possibility of being stalked or harassed over this.


P.P.P.S  Thank you for reading this far.

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